I’m sometimes amused and often depressed by the crazy things that those on the extreme left and the extreme right come up with in their endless quest for grand and improbable conspiracies. But when they find something they agree on then I know that we’ve really moved into that special altered reality where the only thing that protects our reason is a well-fitted tinfoil hat.
The latest cause celebre of the fervent fringe is the idea that the all-oppressing state under BusHitler™ is building concentration camps all around the nation in which to imprison dissidents and political undesirables as part of their agenda to create an eternal reich for the Bush dynasty and their political allies.
The starting point is the belief that recent rulings in the Padilla and Hamdi cases lay the groundwork for removing the citizenship rights of US citizens on the slimmest pretext. In these cases the precedent was established that if you take up arms against the US you have essentially forfeited your citizenship and can be treated as a foreign combatant. This isn’t an entirely new idea. It’s been a basic principle of how convicted traitors are treated since the nation was founded. From this foundation they then extend the argument to extreme lengths and reach the conclusion that the next step is to take away the citizenship of anyone deemed anti-American by the government. Then those people lose the protection of the Constitution and it’s off to Gitmo-style detention for an indefinite period for them. Before you know it black vans will pull up to the houses of John Conyers and Juan Cole and they’ll have hoods on their heads, electrodes on their nipples and their feet in buckets full of water.
This theory goes hand in hand with the idea that there is a program for the construction of ‘secret’ camps all over the country to intern these hundreds of thousands of new political prisoners. The idea that these ‘concentration camps’ exist originates in a nugget of truth. The Department of Homeland Security and/or FEMA have indeed begun construction of camps. This hasn’t been done in secret and it’s not a new plan. It goes back to the 1950s primarily as a way to deal with a mass displacement of population or the need to quarantine a great many people because of disease. President Bush even mentioned it at the recent conference on the Avian Flu. These facilities are designed to house large numbers of evacuees in event of a health emergency or natural disaster. Alternatively they can also be used by the INS to house illegal aliens prior to deportation, or if there is a sudden mass migration over the border because of a natural disaster or a major civil war in Mexico. Construction has been planned for 50 years, but apparently little progress has been made, despite a substantial $385 million appropriation for construction during the Clinton administration.
But if you put the plan for these likely very necessary emergency facilities together with the citizenship revocation theory, bingo you’ve got nazi-style concentration camps. But wait, it gets worse. You see, they’re being built by the source of all evil – Haliburton’s subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root. Plus there’s another little known government program which would let the military use prison labor on their bases, and for that to work it sure would help if we had a whole bunch of political prisoners to put to work for them. Even more scary, some of these camps are accessible by rail – shades of the Nazi death trains full of Jews and Homosexuals. But wait, there’s more. Right after World War II the government issued various executive orders establishing procedures for organizing resources during a wartime crisis, including imposing government control of transportation and resources. Plus apparently there already are camps all over the country which are part of this system – such as long abandonned POW facilities from the last World War, military prisons, old storage facilities, abandonned missile ranges, even Area 51. Basically, anything fenced in and owned by the government must be a concentration camp waiting to be activated. If you believe the crazies they probably have enough capacity to lock up half the population of the nation. And don’t forget Operation Garden Plot a long forgotten plan from the 1960s to authorize the military to help in suppressing civil unrest which was put together in response to the riots in 1967 and 1968.
Put enough of these unrelated old plans and procedures together with an unreasoning fear of the administration and it starts to look pretty grim if your tinfoil hat isn’t on tight enough. It’s all hogwash, of course, and it’s just about as frightening that people believe it as it would be if it were actually true. It’s also a classic example of how the magical reasoning of paranoid extremists works. You take unrelated events which bear superficial resemblance to the things you’re most afraid of, put them together despite the lack of any actual relationship and you’ve gone an instant conspiracy.
Like most conspiracies this can be summed up as a fallacious syllogism, in this case one in which uses the technique of the undistributed middle, appearing logical, but actually failing to establish a complete sequence of logical relationships.
• Nazi concentration camps were camps.
• The US Government is building camps.
• Therefore the US government is building Nazi-style concentration camps.
The problem with this logic is that it doesn’t consider the fact that not all camp-like facilities are actually concentration camps in the Nazi tradition and that it’s actually possible that things like refugee camps and quarantine facilities might serve a real and legitimate need.
It doesn’t help that (inexplicably) respected figures like Professor Lawrence Tribe go on ABC’s Nightline and say things like:
It bothers me that the executive branch is taking the amazing position that just on the president’s say-so, any American citizen can be picked up, not just in Afghanistan, but at O’Hare Airport or on the streets of any city in this country, and locked up without access to a lawyer or court just because the government says he’s connected somehow with the Taliban or Al Qaeda. That’s not the American way. It’s not the constitutional way.
This hardly bears even a passing relationship to the real world. Picking up less than a half-dozen active terrorists who took up arms agains the US is pretty far from a mass revocation of citizenship and indefinite detention program. When relatively mainstream figures start to pick up on these theories and irresponsibly perpetuate them as if they are established facts, they legitimize them in the minds of people who aren’t likely to look at them closely enough to spot the fallacies and just believe what they are told. This may work well to advance their political agenda, but it’s irresponsible and dangerous.
It’s bad enough that there are lunatics who do the research to build the elaborate web of pseudoreality which supports a conspiracy theory like this. But it’s a much more serious problem that there are so many people on both the left and the right who hate the administration so strongly and so irrationally that they are predisposed to take the conspiracy theories seriously without looking at them at all critically. There is an increasingly common mindset which seems to always assume the worst, and be willing to believe almost anything so long as it reinforces their belief that the world is falling apart around them.
Treating this sort of far-fetched theory as if it is real can be very dangerous. It distracts from smaller but much more immediate threats posed by the increasingly powerful state. We’d be much better off worrying about day to day perils like property seizure under eminent domain or drug forfeiture laws or the erosion of our national sovereignty or insane pork barrel spending on Capitol Hill. There are scores of little government excesses which whittle away our rights every day. These are real dangers which we might be able to do something about if we weren’t wasting our energy and our efforts freaking out over far-fetched super-conspiracies which exist mostly in the imagination of some very creative, very troubled and unfortunately very convincing nutcases.
For more on this subject from the fringe left, check out this Buzzflash article from Maureen Farrell or this article by Nat Parry. To balance it out don’t miss the the unique view of this issue presented by Michael Rivero on the extremely crazy right.Powered by Sidelines